Two years ago, if a doctor had advised me to refrain from participating in my primary form of exercise for two to three weeks, I would’ve been worried about my jeans getting too tight. Two years ago, if I had be told that I was unable to attend an event that I’d prepaid $90 for, I would have been agitated about my $90. Two years ago, if someone had told me I’d be upset about not running 13.1 muddy miles in the torrentially down pouring rain, I would’ve called them crazy. But last week, I was just sad that I couldn’t run.
Boston is a runners’ city. The Boston Marathon takes place on Patriots’ Day, an official state holiday in Massachusetts, and attracts elite runners from around the world. Head out for a jog on the Charles River before sunrise or on a rainy afternoon and you’re guaranteed company. You might even unintentionally run straight into the Wanderlust 5K or the 10K that you meant to sign up for but didn’t want to pay for. Yes, this happened. I denied the medal but definitely snagged a post-race bagel.
After the accidental reminders that racing is a total adrenaline rush, I spontaneously registered for the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.)’s annual half-marathon over the summer. I didn’t really anticipate that my entry would be accepted since participants are selected through a random and notoriously competitive lottery, but a few days later, I received an email informing me that I was officially registered for the race. I’d never run further than a 10K and my only race goal was to finish—one great thing about a first race is that any time is a personal record! I picked a beginner’s training plan, invested in energy gels (10/10 recommend Honey Stingers) to fuel for longer runs and completely pushed myself outside of my comfort zone.
Even after completing my first half, I wasn’t sure that I identified as a Boston runner. I ran very, very slow—only eight minutes faster than the time it took Shalane Flanagan to win the New York City Marathon. It was a humid day and a brutally hilly and unfamiliar course. My body felt exhausted and out of wack in the hours and days following the race.
But I wanted to do another one.
I signed up for the Cambridge Half almost immediately after my body recovered from the initial shock of B.A.A. with the expectation that it would be an exponentially easier race. The course was completely flat, I’d be in familiar territory, and the temperatures would (hopefully) be more seasonally appropriate. Plus I was already trained, right?
Maybe not so much.
The Wednesday before I was scheduled to run my second half, I noticed that my hip didn’t feel quite right. Ironically, only a month earlier I had confessed to my sports medicine colleagues that despite the high volume of patients who were seen in our clinic for hip injuries, I had never experienced hip pain and wasn’t even sure what it would feel like. And it truly is a peculiar feeling. At first, I just thought my muscles were sore. Except it was only my left side and it wasn’t going away.
Fortunately, I was able to ask one of the sports medicine physicians at my office to take a peek at my hip (#workperks). I was promptly informed that the odd feeling in my hip was hip flexor tendonitis and that I should definitely not run my half. Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon and is generally caused by “repetitive, minor impact” or a serious injury. So fortunately, my injury was hardly even an injury in of itself—no surgery and no long-term consequences. But I couldn’t run.
I was still at work, so I held it together. And then I cried for my entire bus ride home. Not about the prospect of being unable to do strenuous exercise and not about my $90. But because I couldn’t do my perfect river run—the same run that was supposed to be easy. I finally understood a small fraction of the devastation that an athlete feels when they’re told they can’t play. It’s like your injury strips you of not only your ability to participate onthe court, field, or track but also of a piece of your identity—a small piece in my case and a much more substantial piece for others.
And in that moment, I realized that I actually was a Boston runner.
Or am. Not for the next several weeks, or maybe even months—I’m still not convinced that I’m dedicated enough to run through frozen roads, negative temperatures and water fountains that are shut off for the winter. So, I’ll be hibernating (aka strengthening and resting, and hiding from the cold) this winter.
But catch ya on a perfect little river run this spring?